The opening episode of Dexter doesn’t pussyfoot about: it kicks off with Dexter stalking, then subsequently attacking and killing a man. A priest, actually. The thing with Dexter is that the eponymous character is a sociopath, and the writers don’t want to quibble about that – the bottom line seems to be, he’s a sociopath, now let’s see what he’s going to do about it.
What he does, then, is kill people. But only the deserving – Dexter’s day job is to analyse blood spatter at crime scenes, his foster father was a cop, and his sister is currently trying to be one, so he’s in a position to know a lot about the criminal justice system, and he doesn’t like it when bad people get away with doing bad things. Like the priest who’s been systematically picking off his choir boys – nasty. So Dex kills them.
It’s a difficult premise, and a pretty interesting one. How can an audience be expected to sympathise with an emotionally stunted serial killer? Well, he only kills people who deserve it. Ooh, conflict and ambivalence.
I should probably confess at this point that I recently read the novel the TV show is based on – Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. I didn’t really set out to read it, it was hanging around the office and I was bored, so I picked it up. I quite liked the idea of it, but unfortunately, I also thought the writing was bloody awful. Somehow, though, the novel managed to be compelling despite the distractingly smug prose, so I thought the TV series might be great. Judging a TV show by its pilot isn’t really very fair, but so far, I’m not won over.
The first episode of Dexter covers the first 100 or so pages of the novel. It’s a novel that clocks in at under 300 pages, so you can see why that might be a problem. It’s also a problem because the writers seem to be trying to pack in more than is absolutely necessary, and with no finesse whatsoever. The pilot seems to be an exercise in throwing as much information at the screen as possible and seeing what sticks. So we cover Dexter’s troubled childhood and his unconventional father in a series of clumsy flashbacks; we witness Dexter explaining that he doesn’t have any emotions and so has to fake all his human interactions (largely by buying people doughnuts, it seems); we witness the first couple of the Ice Truck Killer murders; and the interminable voiceover shoehorns in plenty of tiresome exposition in language as awkward as the novel’s.
Many of the characters, particularly the non-white ones, are walking racial stereotypes, defined with the broadest possible strokes – and without any need, because, you know, the racial profiling was pretty much sorted out when you cast the actors. The dialogue throughout was slightly stilted, but I was willing to go along with it up until the unforgiveable moment when Dexter gazes into a Krispy Kreme box and remarks that it’s “empty inside – like me.” Sets your teeth on edge, doesn’t it?
The really, really, really frustrating thing about Dexter is that, despite its many flaws, it’s still kind of interesting. So I’ll keep watching. After all, if they’ve shoved this much of the book into the first episode, they must have somewhere else to go with Dexter’s story, right?
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